A gentleman and a scholar, Devan Dubnyk has a way of making things sound simple.
The former Canadian Hockey League Scholastic Player of the Year can dissect every facet of a play that leads to a save or goal while also providing detailed play-by-play of exactly what he was thinking or why he reacted a certain way.
Tuesday morning, Dubnyk made this playoff race overwrought with anxiety and tension sound so stress-free.
The Wild’s pillar of a netminder said the team merely needs to play carefree hockey because by playing exceptional the past eight weeks, the Wild has put itself in an enviable spot where “if we win our games, it doesn’t matter what happens anywhere else.”
So simple, and so true.
Tuesday night, the Wild did just that, playing fun, entertaining, up-tempo, penalty-free hockey to crush the New Jersey Devils 6-2 at a sold-out Xcel Energy Center.
“When you play the right way, you get the results like that,” said Zach Parise, who assisted on two third-period goals. “That makes the games fun. You play with a freer mind. You get everyone contributing, just top to bottom, everyone’s having a fun time.”
Behind four lines and three defense pairs playing precision-like hockey, Dubnyk, the Wild’s $800,000 No. 1 goalie, started a franchise-record 25th in a row and stopped 30 shots. Recently acquired Chris Stewart scored for a second consecutive game and had his first multi-point game with the Wild. Recently acquired Sean Bergenheim scored his first goal with the Wild.
Thomas Vanek scored twice, Jared Spurgeon scored a goal and assist and Jason Pominville chased Cory Schneider from net 90 seconds into the third.
“The fourth line getting that big first goal set the tempo,” said Stewart, who gave the Wild a 2-0 lead 13 seconds into the second period after Bergenheim scored with 63 seconds left in the first. “Besides that, I thought we came at them in waves.”
Facing a Devils team that was 7-2-1 in its previous 10, the Wild avoided losing consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 19-20 and improved to 17-3-1 since the All-Star break and 19-4-2 in the Dubnyk era. Even though Dubnyk says it doesn’t matter, the Wild stretched its top wild-card lead to three points over Winnipeg, which suffered a heart-breaking loss in St. Louis. The Wild also pulled within three of Chicago for third in the Central Division heading into tough back-to-back games Friday and Saturday against Anaheim and St. Louis.
“After [Sunday’s loss to Colorado], we wanted to get right back at it, and I think we did that,” Spurgeon said.
The game was wildly entertaining, not one you’d expect from the defensive-minded Wild and Devils. There were 70 combined shots. Fourteen Wild players got points and 17 got shots.
Both Schneider and Dubnyk were sharp in the first, with Dubnyk keeping the game scoreless by denying Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri on odd-man rushes. Coach Mike Yeo credited Dubnyk’s play during “uncomfortable moments” for allowing the Wild to get a 1-0 lead.
Stewart struck immediately to start the third on a juicy Mikko Koivu rebound, then Spurgeon stepped into a Mikael Granlund feed in the right circle for his career-high eighth goal, the eventual winner.
Zubrus trimmed the deficit to two, but Vanek scored the first of his two goals late in the second on a strong forecheck by Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine.
“We had a really good start,” said Parise, who had dinner with many of his ex-teammates Monday night.
“I thought we were really prepared to play. They had a hard time with how crisp and fast we were coming through the neutral zone, and that was a big reason we put them on their heels.”
Parise just missed his first career goal against the team he used to captain when Vanek swiped a puck off the goal line.
“I celebrated like it was mine,” Parise said, laughing. “They announced it as his, you kind of feel like an idiot now.”